After having visited 8th Generation Vineyards during two fall bus tours – the most recent in 2013 – the BC Wine Appreciation Society welcomed owner Stefanie Schales to Vancouver this month for a spring sit-down tasting. Stefanie and her husband Bernd have owned their Summerland winery since 2007, after emigrating from Germany and acquiring an Okanagan Falls vineyard in 2003. The winery name is spot-on, as both of their families have contributed to the wine industry since at least the mid-eighteenth century!
While Bernd received formal oenological education in Germany, Stefanie originally trained there as an architect. Her resulting organizational, detail-oriented skillset has rendered Bernd extremely grateful she serves as “the very epicenter of managing both our business, as well as our young, energetic family.” After time spent in the German, New Zealand, and South African wine industries the Schales discovered the beauty and potential of British Columbia during a 2001 vacation. Plans to operate from the initial Okanagan Falls vineyard were revised when the opportunity arose to acquire the former Adora Winery property in Summerland. Since then, 8th Generation has become an essential and obvious stop for wine fans as they pass by via Highway 97, the Okanagan Valley’s main artery.
With several chilled sparkling, white, and Rosé wines leading the evening’s presentation Stefanie wasted little time after introductions before detailing the portfolio and imploring sample sips. The most recent incarnations of the winery’s wildly successful Frizzante were foremost, with 2015 “Integrity” white and 2014 “Confidence” Rosé on hand. The first release of Frizzante Chardonnay in 2009 has led to the current pair of frosted-glass, crown-capped blends. The brand new Integrity comprises 52% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Gris, and 18% Kerner, bursting with lemon zest on the nose and fresh flavours of tropical fruits and Elderflower. What little remains of the older Confidence comes from a Limited Edition special production run of pure Pinot Noir, and showed off rich red berry aromas atop an off-dry but balanced cream soda mousse.
It should come as no surprise that 8th Generation is particularly enthused about Riesling, and various styles and vintages beckoned, but first Stefanie presented her bone-dry Chardonnay. After a lengthy absence the oaked white returned in 2014, having spent four months sur lie in mixed age French barrels. The maturing vineyard in Okanagan Falls is yielding high quality grapes in ideal terroir that has been turning out some of BC’s most renowned Chardonnay: close neighbours include Blue Mountain and Noble Ridge. The newly released small lot (of 150 cases) was showing pleasant popcorn, stone fruit, and toasty oak aromas, while the buttery palate finished bright with a lemon meringue pie reminder.
Before they warmed up too much it was time for an in-depth examination of Riesling, including some informative German terminology tips. Stefanie had brought four wines covering three vintages and three styles, all sourced from 30-year-old vines on the estate vineyard in Okanagan Falls. In 2013 Bernd added a new style to the portfolio in the form of the “Riesling Selection” and the small quantity that still remains provided a rare opportunity to taste the results. Wild fermentation plus extended skin contact with a mere 8g/L of residual sugar provided a soft, lemon-lime palate with hints of starfruit and a mineral-driven finish. Stefanie was sure to suggest a few hours air, even full decanting, to best enjoy the Selection.
Last year 8th Generation was honoured to receive a Double Gold Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships and the status of Best in Canada for their “regular” 2014 Riesling. Surprisingly some remains, despite the bargain price of $21, and it was a necessity for this tasting. A full 24g/L of sugar encourages the expression of tropical fruits but the wine was surprisingly balanced, mouth-watering in fact, with a long sweet finish. From the 2015 vintage the newly released “Classic” Riesling was also enjoyed, with 10g/L of sugar in a citrus-scented, fruit-forward “good table wine” as Stefanie put it. Those present were particularly lucky to also sample the upcoming 2015 Selection, still aging in bottle before a winter release. Plenty of citrus blossoms and tropical fruit aromas conjured Ehrenfelser comparisons at this young stage, while the tart apple flavours and soft, rich texture impressed yet again.
After a break for palate recovery thanks to bountiful cheese and charcuterie platters from Les Amis du Fromage, the wines got a little darker. Easing in the reds was brand new 2015 Pinot Meunier Rosé, a popular and highly sought-after wine sourced from the Summerland vineyard. The winery describes the 16g/L sugar content as a “dangerous sipper” and it clearly contributes to the creamy texture. Twenty-four hours of skin contact after a gentle pressing has again delivered the reliable strawberry-rhubarb and pink grapefruit profile, with a fresh and fruity palate of candied characteristics (but balancing acidity). Stefanie emphasized it will be sold out before summer, so the order sheets on hand were a valuable addition to the evening.
While the whites are clearly king at 8th Generation, the Schales haven’t missed the opportunities afforded by the Okanagan’s diverse terroir. Varietal reds and blends have a smaller but significant place in the portfolio, offering something for everyone in the tasting room. Pinot Noir and Syrah from the Summerland vineyard are each bottled individually (plus Syrah icewine under the right conditions), and guests were afforded a taste of both. The newly released 2013 Pinot Noir provided classic characteristics of red currants, mushrooms, and wet leaves on the nose; with a dry, spiced palate of cherries, raspberry, and an intense earthy finish. The 2013 Syrah offered similar archetypal aromas including leather and peppered sausages, plus tart red fruit flavours and a light, smooth texture.
A pair of blends showed two very different ways to enjoy red wine, with a nod to the Schales’ relaxed European traditions. New 2014 Cabernet-Merlot brings together 80% Merlot from the Okanagan Falls estate vineyard with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from a Naramata Bench grower. The admittedly youthful but velvety palate yields rich, dark flavours with a vein of milk chocolate cherries flowing through the finish. Still, admirers with a modicum of patience will gain benefit from time for further integration. The new 2015 “Red One” offers more immediate appeal by design, in the style of summer sipper found at home in the Rheinhessen. Naramata Bench vineyards have provided unoaked Merlot and a touch of Syrah for a bottle best enjoyed chilled, perhaps even as the base of a spritzer or Sangria. In Stefanie’s opinion, the fruit forward sipper is the perfect remedy for hot summer days.
As evidence that Bernd and Stefanie are as serious about longevity as any German winemaker, she closed the tasting by recalling a recent evening at home: to celebrate the move to a new tasting room they cracked open several older bottles on permanent display in the space being vacated. Every wine, white and red, was excellent, with the exception of a 2008 Pinot Noir bottled under cork. Obviously a case for the durability and security of screwcaps, along with evidence for the clear quality of the Schales’ wines from even the early years of production. Hopefully there remains a few bottles of 2007 Riesling deep in the cellars of lucky BC wine aficionados to serve as additional proof. At the very least a few of the latest vintages undoubtedly found their way to shelter in Society members’ cellars thanks to Stefanie.